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Voice change (Hoarseness)

I have noticed that my voice is getting hoarse. Should I be worried?

Hoarseness is basically a cover-all term to describe abnormal voice changes such as voice going breathy, raspy, strained, or getting differently pitched or showing different volume levels than usual. Actually, in itself, hoarseness is not a disease, it is a symptom.

Hoarseness usually originates from some issue or disorder with the vocal chords (a part of the larynx or the voice box which is responsible for producing sounds). Hoarseness can be caused by many factors but it is rarely serious if it heals within a few days. However, if your hoarseness has gone on for two weeks, you should visit an ENT physician at the earliest to rule out larynx cancer.

  • Common cold or upper respiratory tract viral infection
  • Voice abuse by talking loudly or excessively for long stretches of time
  • Gastroesophageal reflux wherein acidic stomach contents spill up the food pipe (oesophagus) and irritate the vocal folds
  • Smoking habit
  • Other health issues such as allergies, thyroid problems, neurological disorders, rheumatoid arthritis and voice box trauma
  • He will first take a detailed history of your hoarseness problem and your overall health.
  • Then he will undertake a physical check up of your voice box and its surrounding area using either a mirror or a laryngoscope which is a compact and flexible instrument with an in-fitted light that can be placed at the back of your throat.
  • Next, he will assess your voice quality.
  • Depending on the findings of the physical investigation, your ENT physician may prescribe simple precautions or ask for lab tests (e.g. biopsy), x-rays, or thyroid function testing.

The treatment for hoarseness depends on what has caused it. Here are some main treatment strategies that your doctor will advise:

  • Fortunately most cases of hoarseness can be relieved by resting the voice.
  • As smoking can be a culprit in causing hoarseness, smokers will be advised to quit smoking along with resting their voice.
  • Even if you do not smoke yourself, you will be advised to avoid second-hand smoke.
  • If the investigations have revealed nodules or polyps on the vocal folds, the doctor may recommend a surgery.

Yes, you can. In normal course of things, here are a few precautions to keep in mind:

  • Smoking is injurious not just to your overall health; it is particularly bad for your vocal chords as well. Quit smoking to keep your voice normal.
  • Those who have hoarseness should avoid exposure to passive or second-hand smoke even if they do not smoke themselves.
  • Hoarseness can also result from dehydration so drink water and other hydrating fluids but minimize consumption of caffeine and alcohol.
  • Use a humidifier at home to do away with dryness.
  • Avoid spicy foods.
  • Do not speak too loud and do not speak for long stretches in one go.
  • Go to an ENT specialist if the hoarseness persists.

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